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close this bookJournal of the Network of African Countries on Local Building Materials and Technologies - Volume 3, Number 2 (HABITAT, 1994, 42 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentThe Aim of the Network and its Journal
View the documentForeword
View the documentKenya: Koma Rock Housing Project in Nairobi*
View the documentTechnology Profile No. 1 - Fibre-concrete Roofing**
View the documentTechnology Profile No. 2 - Utilization of Agricultural Wastes***
View the documentEvents
View the documentPublications Review
View the documentBack Cover

Kenya: Koma Rock Housing Project in Nairobi*

* This is an edited and summarized version of an unpublished report prepared by Dr. Jill Wells. Reader and Director of Research. School of Construction Economics and Management. South Bank University. London, United Kingdom.


Koma Rock is a large, public sector housing estate which is located on the eastern outskirts of Nairobi. The project is of interest for a number of reasons. Most important is the fact that it is the largest known commercial housing project to date where natural fibre-concrete roof tiles (FCR) have been specified for the roofing.

Natural fibre concrete roofing tiles (sometimes known as sisal cement tiles) are a relatively new material produced by an "intermediate" type of technology. Although the technology was originally developed in order to provide a low-cost roofing material for use by the poor, and may eventually succeed in this aim, attempts to introduce new materials into the low-cost housing market have generally not been very successful. There is, in fact, increasing evidence to indicate that the poor will not buy new building materials unless they are first tried and tested by those more able to take the risk. That means the richer individual members of the society and the institutional building clients.

The specification of fibre-concrete tiles on a major, high-profile, public sector housing project such as Koma Rock is, therefore, of particular significance. If the product performs satisfactorily, confidence in the material should develop and more potential clients be encouraged to buy. Publicity from the project could also have a catalytic effect on the market for fibre concrete tiles, both in Kenya and outside. The Koma Rock housing project, therefore, represents a major landmark in the dissemination of fibre-concrete tile technology.

As such, the project has already received considerable attention and several brief reports and articles have been written. However, the project has not yet been studied objectively and systematically with a view to drawing out essential lessons for the guidance of others attempting to disseminate the technology through formal sector building programmes.

The present study, therefore, has two major aims. The first is simply to document in detail the way in which the project was implemented, the problems encountered and how they were overcome. The second is to assess the achievements and limitations of the project, in order to pass on any lessons that may be learned. A detailed account of project implementation will be found in Part I of the report and the evaluation of the project is given in Part II.

Specific objectives for evaluation include:

(i) the constraints to the introduction of new and labour-intensive technologies in institutional housing projects;

(ii) the broad social and economic benefits to be gained from the wider use of FCR tiles as an alternative roofing material;

(iii) the impact of the project upon the development of the market for FCR tiles in Kenya.

The major part of the data for the study was collected through structured interviews with all of the major participants in the Koma Rock Project. The interviews took place during a two-week visit to Kenya in February 1992, which was funded by the Nuffield Foundation. Additional help was provided by the Swiss Centre for Appropriate Technology (SKAT). The support of these two organizations is, therefore, thankfully acknowledged.

Houses at Koma Rock covered with FCR - Courtesy ITW, Nairobi



Fibre-Concrete Roofing (FCR) Tiles

The most common roofing material in use in developing countries is the galvanized, corrugated iron (GCI) roofing sheet. Some countries also produce asbestos cement roofing sheets. Both of these materials are manufactured in large scale plants, using capital intensive technologies and in most countries, a significant proportion of the inputs (materials, fuel, technology) have to be imported. The need for a cheaper substitute material for roofing which requires less resources and foreign-exchange and can be produced on a small scale, using labour-intensive techniques, has been felt for a long time.

For more than a decade many countries have been experimenting the use of natural fibres (sisal, jute etc.) to replace asbestos in the production of corrugated roofing sheers. These experiments have not been very successful. Although natural fibre concrete roofing sheers can be made without any significant investment in equipment, the sheets are extremely brittle, difficult to transport and susceptible to even slight imperfections in the roof structure. In addition, the natural fibres soon decay in the alkalinity of the cement.

In an attempt to overcome these problems, extensive research and development work was undertaken in the early 1980s by JPM Parry of Intermediate Technology Workshops (ITW), a private company based in Cradley Heath, The United Kingdom, in close association with their workshop at Karen in Nairobi. The sheet technology was scaled down, long fibres replaced by short chopped fibre, and a simple process of electric vibration introduced. The final result was the fibre-concrete roofing (FCR) tile, a 6 mm thick pantile consisting of a mixture of ordinary Portland cement, sand and a small amount of chopped sisal fibre. By 1984, ITW Karen had begun to produce FCR tiles for sale on the open market in Kenya, as well as serving as a training centre for tile technology; while ITW Cradley Heath began the production and export of tile-making machines (small electric vibrators) and plastic moulds.

FCR tiles ready to be cured - Courtesy Africa Housing Fund Nairobi.

The suitability of FCR tile technology for small business development, as well as its potential to generate employment and save on foreign exchange, was soon recognized by the aid community - not least in Kenya. In the mid 1980s the appropriate technology unit of the charity 'Action Aid' purchased Parry equipment and began training youth groups in the production of FCR tiles. The tiles were produced under the supervision of Action Aid's field staff and mainly used on Action Aid's own school buildings in the rural areas (i.e. a 'captive market'). Some attempt was also made to sell tiles on the open market, but with limited success. A few of the youth groups did, however, eventually succeed in establishing themselves as independent producers, selling tiles to the public at large. Action Aid has also been instrumental in promoting the local production of tile-making machinery and equipment (concrete moulds). For more details on Action Aid as Kenya's efforts in developing FCR technology refer to UNCHS (Habitat) Journal of the Network of African Countries on Local Building Materials and Technologies, Volume 2 Number 3, August 1993, page 9-21.

Following a slightly different approach from Action Aid, the Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG) in 1985 launched a programme for the 'accelerated dissemination of FCR tile technology in Kenya'. The aim of the programme was to disseminate the technology as widely as possible throughout Kenya, focusing particularly on the rural areas. Dissemination was to take place through normal commercial channels. The vehicle for dissemination was the small-scale entrepreneur, who was offered assistance in the form of technical and business training, and helped in obtaining access to credit. The programme was undertaken in collaboration with ITW (Kenya) who provided the technical training at their workshop in Karen. The project was partially successful in so far as it succeeded in 'transferring the technology' to a small number of private producers; but it was never funded to completion. When the project was evaluated in 1987 it was clear that the expansion and proliferation of small tile-making businesses (in some instances even their survival) was being seriously constrained by the failure to develop a significant market for FCR tiles.

Studies of the marketing problems faced by small, independent, tile producers, in Kenya and elsewhere highlighted a number of factors. Most significant in Kenya is the fact that FCR tiles are not cheaper than 28 gauge GCI sheets, their main competitor -although they are cheaper than all other types of roofing material. There are also a large number of alternative roofing materials available in Kenya (clay tiles, conventional concrete tiles, asbestos tiles etc.). To carve out a market share for FCR tiles, in competition with established producers, clearly requires a lot of effort and probably more money than the small tile-producers possess.

Testing the trial production of FCR - Courtesy ITW, Nairobi

A further problem is created by the fact that the FCR tile is a new product. The conservative nature of the market for building materials in general, and roofing materials in particular, is legendary. And such conservatism is not without justification. Nobody will buy a new roofing material unless they are absolutely certain that it will keep out the rain and last for a minimum number of years. Individual Householders, especially those on low incomes, are probably least able to take such a risk. It may, therefore, be argued that a new product such as FCR tiles should be introduced first on an institutional housing project. If the product performs satisfactorily, confidence in the material will be developed. If in addition the project is high-profile and highly visible, then a certain amount of free advertisement will also be generated, which could have a catalytic effect upon the development of the market for tiles. Koma Rock is such a project.

The Koma Rock Project

Koma Rock is destined to be a huge housing estate situated on the eastern outskirts of Nairobi, some 18 kms. from the city centre. It is planned eventually to construct up to 10,000 houses on the site, in a number of phases. The financier of the project is the Housing Finance Company of Kenya (HFCK), which is owned 40 per cent by the Government of Kenya (GOK) and 40 per cent by the Commonwealth Development Corporation (CDC); the final 20 per cent is now being floated to the general public. The client/developer is the Kenya Building Society (KBS). Hence this is essentially a 'public sector' housing project, with large element of external finance. Both factors ensure that it is 'high profile'.

Phase I of the project, consisting of 1750 houses, was begun in 1988 and completed in April 1990. An additional 38 'in-fill' houses were added in 1991. At the time of writing this report (August 1992) work is underway on a further 240 houses, to be financed out of money saved (due to devaluation etc.) on phase one. Thus in the first phase of the project over 2,000 houses will have been built.

The houses are built for sale to the general public, with the target market being the lower and middle-income groups. This is the first time that the KBS has attempted to reach this market, hence a deliberate attempt was made at the design stage to keep down the construction costs. The houses are built to a variety of designs (detached, semi-detached, terraced) of one or two storeys. The walls are of concrete block or locally quarried stone. Two hundred and fifty of the houses are roofed with asbestos cement sheets; the remaining 1750 have roofs of red FCR pantiles.

To roof 1750 houses with FCR tiles requires the production of 1.2 million tiles. Yet this is a small-scale, labour-intensive technology. The average tile producer with one vibrator can make 300 tiles per day in one eight hour shift. To produce tiles at the required rate (for completion in 14 months) would therefore necessitate the full-time involvement of at least 12 small producers. But in 1988 there were not 12 FCR tile producers in the Nairobi area. In specifying FCR tiles for such a large project, it would seem that the architects were taking a very great risk.

The degree of risk would appear to be compounded by the fact that, although by 1988 a specification for FCR tiles had been drafted by the Kenyan Bureau of Standards, this was not yet on the statute book. The use of FCR tiles in the 'scheduled areas' of Nairobi could therefore be interpreted as illegal. Previous attempts to introduce the tiles in the city had met with strong resistance from the Nairobi City Commission.

There is also the problem of quality control. Being essentially a hand-made product, FCR tiles are particularly subject to variations in quality. The production process consists of a number of stages - mixing, vibrating, moulding, curing. Failure to strictly adhere to the 'ideal' procedure at each stage (e.g. failure to clean the moulds, having too wet a mix, placing the wet tile incorrectly on the mould, inadequate curing etc.) can result in the production of faulty tiles. The only sure way to prevent the use of sub-standard tiles in construction is to test each and every tile. Hence the testing of 1.2 million tiles had somehow to be accommodated in the procedures for implementing the project.

The Contractual Arrangements

The design and construction of the initial 1750 houses was divided into two separate groups of contracts. One thousand two hundred and three houses were designed by a Kenyan firm of architects; the contract for construction of these houses was given by competitive tender, to a local constructing firm. A further 547 houses were designed by a European owned firm based in Nairobi, and the contract for construction was given to another local contractor. Both contractors are large local firms.

On both contracts ITW-Kenya were the nominated subcontractors for the supply and fixing of the roofing. In order to undertake the contract ITW was transformed from a partnership to a private limited company, registered in Kenya. The total tender value of roofs completed by the end of 1991 was almost 19 million Kenyan Shillings. Due to increase in the price of cement (for which a fluctuation clause was operative) the final contract sum was approximately 23 million Kenyan Shillings.

A 10 per cent retention was enforced on the contract and a six months defects liability period. In addition, a 10 per cent bond was required on the total contract, a part of which should have been paid by the roofing subcontractor. Hence the contractual arrangements were such as to pass on to the nominated subcontractor for the roofing (ITW) a significant share of the risk involved in the use of a non-conventional roofing material.

Implementation of the Contract

The subcontract for the roofing was signed by ITW on 7 February 1989 and completed on schedule in April 1990. Thus, 1.2 million tiles were made, tested for quality and fixed in place in a period of just 14 months - a production rate of 35 roofs per week, or 3 to 4000 tiles per day. How did they do it?

Crucial to an understanding of this project is recognition of the fact that ITW did not make any tiles for Koma Rock themselves, despite having significant production capacity at their workshop in Karen. All tile production was subcontracted. The biggest subcontractor was the Humama Women's Group from Mathare Valley (see below) who produced 75 per cent of the tiles (approximately 800,000 tiles). The rest were produced by six small private producers (approximately 100,000 tiles each) - some of whom were established under the ITDG programme mentioned above. The producers were paid for each tile that was accepted, but nothing for the 20 per cent (on average) that were rejected. Hence the risk of losses from poor quality production was passed on to the tile producers. This approach also forced the producers to be more careful during the production process and adhere to specifications and instructions for tile production.

An aerial view of the phase I of the Koma Rock Housing Project - Courtesy ITW, Nairobi

All tiles were made on the site at Koma Rock. There were a number of reasons for this decision. First, to avoid transport costs, as well as additional costs involved in breakages during transport. Secondly, to avoid the payment of sales tax (now called VAT) on the product. (At the time sales tax was 17.5 per cent, but construction products made on site are exempt). Thirdly to secure a closer control over the production process and the quality of the tiles.

In order to set up tile production on the site, ITW invested a considerable amount in the construction of infrastructure - a large production shed, water-supply tank, power supply, curing tanks and racks for the storage and inspection of the tiles. They also purchased raw materials (cement, sand and sisal) and a vehicle to deliver the materials to the site in bulk. ITW estimate the total capital required 'up-front' (investment plus working capital) to get production started to be about 2 million Kenyan Shillings. This sum was borrowed from a local bank, based on security in the United Kingdom and Kenya.

One month after the necessary infrastructure was in place, tile producers moved their equipment onto the site and began production. They were given the option of purchasing raw materials from ITW and all opted to do this. The cost of the raw materials, plus a small mark-up, was deducted from the monthly payments for accepted tiles. Tiles were produced in bays, and each producer had an identifying mark on his/her tiles, so that they could be traced back to producer groups. Four inspectors worked full-time on the testing of tiles. All tiles were tested for geometrical fit (with a wooden template) and surface defects. Ten tiles from each batch of 200 were tested for strength and porosity, after 14 days curing. The best producers managed to get 90 per cent of their tiles accepted, but some only reached 70 per cent. On average, 20 per cent of the tiles were rejected. Rejected tiles remained the property of the producers.

The roofs were constructed in the order of rafters, battens, bulk fixing of the tiles, finishes. There was one general foreman in charge of roof construction, plus one other foreman on each of the two sites. The foremen had been trained by ITW and worked with them for many years. They in turn trained the men on site. Carpenters were used for the battens and 'casuals' for the tile fixing.

Although there was a 'clerk of works' on the site, he apparently had little to do with the roof construction. The architects rarely appeared. Hence ITW were solely responsible for the quality of the completed roofs, under the conditions of the contract.

Humama Women's Group

Humama Women's Group, responsible for 75 per cent of the tiles production, is essentially a self-help group of women from the Mathare Valley, one of Nairobi's oldest squatter settlements. The group was farmed from the merger of four smaller womens groups, known as Heri, Upendo, Mako and Machuma, the initials of the smaller groups being taken to make the name Humama. The group has 240 members, all of whom are women and many of them single mothers. Most have been the victims of periodic eviction from their homes. The provision of permanent and secure shelter for the members is therefore the primary objective of the group.

Humama were assisted to form a cohesive and committed group by the social services staff of the Undugu society (a Nairobi based charity society). In a search for income earning opportunities, the leaders of the group approached the African Housing Fund (AHF) of Shelter Afrique with a view to obtaining a loan to enable them to purchase equipment and set up an FCR tile-making factory. AHF were sympathetic. A loan was secured, for equipment and working capital, of 1.3 million shillings, repayable over 54 months at 5 per cent per annum; and help offered to secure a permanent plot of land for the women to set up their tile production plant and eventually build their own homes. AHF in turn approached ITW who agreed to subcontract the supply of tiles for the Koma Rock project to Humama, as well as to provide technical training in tile making for some of the women. Ten women subsequently attended training courses at ITW workshop in Karen. Others attended business training courses; and Technoserve (a non-profitable, non-governmental organization) was employed to provide management services to the group, with the aim of eventually developing it into a self-managed, self-supporting company.

Parry equipment was purchased on behalf of Humama - 9 electric vibrating tables and a total of 4,200 moulds, costing approximately 800,000 Kenyan Shillings. According to the AHF, Parry moulds were chosen in preference to locally-made concrete moulds (which are much cheaper) because they are easier for the women to handle. AHF also maintained that they bought the moulds at a good price, and were exempted from the payment of import duties. In this respect, as well as in the terms and conditions of the loan, and the extent of 'technical assistance' provided, it is clear that Humama were heavily subsidized.

For the duration of the contract, 85 of the 240 members were employed on-site milking tiles, 48 of them living on the site with their families in houses constructed by AHF. The women were divided into nine groups of five, corresponding to the number of tile-making machines. According to Humama, the production of tiles was at first slow, and there were many rejects. According to ITW, it was anarchic. But eventually some order was brought about by the employment of a technically-trained manager and supervisor, and the rate of output was doubled by the introduction of a second shift.

Humama women's group producing FCR tiles - Courtesy Africa Housing Fund, Nairobi

A women putting fresh FCR tile on the mould - Courtesy Africa Housing Fund, Nairobi

The number of rejected tiles also declined somewhat, although generally remaining around 20 per cent. For much of the contract, each group of five women produced 230 tiles in one five-hour shift.

The women were paid according to their output, with most receiving 35 Kenyan Shillings per day. Office workers received 65 Kenyan Shillings per day and supervisors 55 Kenyan Shillings. The group as a whole made profits of around 30,000 Kenyan Shillings per month when there were no rejects; but profits were only 20,000 or 15,000 when the number of rejects was high. Rejected tiles (of which there were around 200,000) have since been graded and priced according to the severity of the defects. Some have been sold to the public.

It was anticipated at the start of the project that during Phase I profits of approximately 400,000 Kenyan Shillings would be generated, which would be applied to the group's housing fund. Loans repaid were also to be re-circulated and applied to the housing fund, which would be used to make housing loans to individual members, repayable over 5 years at zero interest. If the same level of profits could be generated in Phase II (assuming that it went ahead and Humama got the contract) then it was predicted that all 240 members of the group would be housed within 4 years.

It was probably not anticipated, however, that at the end of Phase I tile production would come to an abrupt halt; or that the land which had been promised to them would never materialize. Without any land of their own upon which they could continue producing tiles, the women were left with no source of income and nowhere to live. Although they did succeed in generating profits during phase I (probably around 400,000 Kenyan Shillings) and still have money in the bank, they have not been able to pay back more than a small percentage of the loan to the AHF, and hence do not own the tile-making equipment. When visited, the women were earning a small income from the production of candles and 'tile-dye' material. Repayment of the loan had ceased, pending the resumption of die production.

The Next Phase - 240 Houses

The 240 additional houses to be built from savings in Phase I are to be built again by the main contractor. On this contract, however, the main contractor is responsible for letting the subcontract for the roofing (i.e. a domestic as opposed to nominated subcontract). ITW were asked to price the roofing at tender stage and subsequently negotiated the subcontract with the main contractor.

It is believed that the Humama women have been given a subcontract for the supply of the majority of the tiles for this extension to Phase I.

Lessons from Phase I

Phase I of the Koma Rock Project was not overall an unmitigated success. Some of the problems related to the roofing. The project manager and the architects were not very happy with the inconsistency in the colour of the tiles. In addition, the fact that the tiles are very thin and cannot be walked upon was seen as a potential problem when tiles needed replacing. The most common complaint from the residents, on the other hand, was that daylight could be seen through the tiles, which they found somewhat unnerving; many chose to overcome this problem by the addition of a ceiling.

There were also reports of leakages during the early days after completion, particularly around the chimneys. These difficulties appear to have been resolved. These criticisms of the roofing have, however, to be seen in the context of much bigger problems in the conception, planning and implementation of the project as a whole. It is necessary to briefly outline the major points in order to understand the changes that are likely to be made in Phase II.

It was originally intended that the houses constructed under Phase I would be targeted at the lower and middle-income earners in Nairobi. The initial estimate of monthly repayments on the cheapest house was 1400 Kenyan Shillings. But by the time the houses were completed, this figure had risen to 3045 Kenyan Shillings. It is suggested that the increased construction cost resulted from higher prices paid for materials and fuel (resulting from de-regulation and devaluation) together with increased interest charges. The net effect was that the completed houses could no longer be afforded by the targeted section of the market; and those that could afford them didn't like them. Long delays in selling the houses further increased the interest charges.

A report commissioned by the client to test user reaction to Phase I and user expectations for Phase II drew attention to the problem of trying to sell what were in effect middle-income houses, to high-income owners. One of the consequences has been a high degree of absentee landlords, as better-off purchasers with no wish to live in the area sublet to tenants. That they are able to do this at monthly rentals above the level of loan repayment is an indication of the sever shortage of housing in Nairobi. That it is apparently easier to let an entire unit than individual rooms, reflects the fact that the units at Koma Rock are not designed for sub-letting on a room-by-room basis (the usual way for lower-income earners to afford the loan repayments). An estimated 50 to 70 per cent of the houses built under Phase I are now lived in by tenants.

The report, prepared by a housing economist also drew attention to what is happening in the Kayole site and service scheme, a private development adjacent to the Koma Rock site. In February 1991, houses were being constructed at Kayole at less than 50 per cent of the cost of the houses at Koma Rock. At that time, a four roomed-house at Koma Rock cost 450,000 Kenyan Shillings, while a standard seven-roomed unit at Kayole cost 125,500 Kenyan Shillings. Although the Kayole houses might have a slightly lower level of finishes, they are built of permanent materials (stone, with GCI or concrete tile roofs) and to a design that allows for easy sub-letting of rooms. The small African contractors working on site estimated that a greatly improved four-roomed unit could be build for the same price.

The monthly repayment on such would be only a small fraction of that on a Koma Rock house. If additional income were earned from the renting of rooms, such a house would be affordable by even the low-income families.

Phase II

In the light of these criticisms, there appears to have been much soul-searching about how to proceed in Phase II. It would seem that a number of ideas have been considered, including the idea of multi-family housing, which was reportedly rejected by CDC on the grounds that it is not 'mortgageable'.

Both project manager and architect have changed for Phase II. An interview with the new architect in February 1992 revealed that houses built in Phase II will be larger and the cost should be lower. FCR tiles are again specified for the roofing. They will, however, be 8 mm or 10 mm thick and there will be a hardboard sheet placed above the rafters and underneath the battens (presumably as an alternative to a ceiling). The architects feel that these slight modifications should serve to overcome consumer fears regarding the fragility and the fit of the tiles.

The houses will be built in a staggered fashion in Phase II, so that only 20 houses will be handed over each month. The motivation behind this decision appears to be mainly to ease the selling problem and avoid having capital tied up in completed houses. The fact that it also affords the possibility of using smaller contractors and smaller tile producers (hence perhaps further cutting down on costs and opening up opportunities for indigenous firms) seems to have been overlooked. Or if it has been considered it appears to have been rejected. The contractual arrangements for Phase II are very likely to be much the same as for Phase I.



With Phase I of the Koma Rock Project satisfactorily completed, it is time to take stock. Evaluation of the achievements of the project, and the lessons learned, will be focused around three issues:

(i) what were the problems that were encountered (or could be encountered) in introducing an innovative form of roofing into a large, public-sector housing project, and how could such problems be overcome;

(ii) what are the benefits and costs of introducing and using this technology, as opposed to the alternatives; and

(iii) what effect has the project had on the market for FCR tiles. Each of these issues will be examined in turn in this part of the paper.

Problems Encountered in Execution of the Contract

Byelaws and Regulations

Nairobi is a city notorious for the strict implementation of planning regulations and byelaws, particularly, on high profile, public-sector projects. Building materials and products for which official standards do not exist are not allowed in the 'scheduled' areas of the city, even in the special scheduled areas (including East Nairobi) where lower standards are permitted. The specification of FCR tiles for such a large and visible project as Koma Rock might, therefore, be expected to be rejected.

Past attempts to build with FCR tiles, in Nairobi and other cities in Kenya, have in fact been met with some difficulties. When the possibility of using FCR tiles was suggested for Umoja II (a USAID funded site and service scheme) many objections were raised ranging from the fear that sufficient tiles could not be produced in time, to concerns over the tiles being broken by children playing with balls, etc.

A women screeding the mortar on vibrating machine - Courtesy Africa Housing Fund, Nairobi

On this occasion, however, the project manager and the architects were confident that there were no problems with the specification of FCR tiles. It was pointed out that concrete tiles are already accepted, and FCR tiles are only a form of concrete tile. Also Koma Rock is in a schedule II area - where lower standards are permissable; unpainted GCI sheets are frowned upon, but there was no objection to FCR tiles.

Behind these apparent contradictions, the truth would seem to be that the potential barrier presented by inappropriate and outdated building regulations and byelaws had been already overcome by the time of Koma Rock. The existence of a draft standard for the tiles was obviously an important milestone in the process. The lack of resistance to the use of tiles at Koma Rock may therefore be interpreted as a victory for the efforts of all those who have been actively campaigning for many years, for the development of a standard and recognition of the product, both in Kenya and elsewhere.

Some of those campaigners were in fact major 'players' in the Koma Rock Project. It is worth noting that the two original architects for the project, as well as the project manager and the financier (and of course the roofing subcontractor) were all in favour of using FCR tiles. The specification of FCR tiles on a major project had been talked about for almost five years before it came to fruition.

The lesson for other countries is that it is possible to get an FCR standard adopted and planning byelaws changed. The adoption of a standard, however, should be regarded as a necessary but not a sufficient precondition for acceptance of a new material. It is also essential to persuade the architects, clients and financiers of projects, as well as those responsible for the enforcement of building regulations, of the credibility of the product. This process may take a long time.

Contractual Arrangements

The risk involved in specifying FCR tiles on such a large project have already been noted. In this instance, the architects were happy to do so, safe in the knowledge that

(i) they could pass on the risk, through normal contractual channels, to a nominated subcontractor: and

(ii) that a company willing to accept the risk, and able to meet the commitments already existed in Nairobi.

ITW maintain that they encountered no major problems in implementing the contract. As with all building projects, there were of course some minor technical problems, for example with the ridges; the leading around of the chimneys; and generally in coping with the rather complicated (perhaps unnecessarily complicated) roof design. There was also some disagreement with the main contractor regarding the delineation of responsibility for the supply of water and power to the die producers. And there were inevitably some anxious moments regarding the ability of the Humama women to deliver the required quantity of tiles on time. But none of the problems proved indictable; and the contract was delivered ahead of schedule.

The easy acceptance (in hindsight) of the responsibility for delivering the roofing is perhaps an indication of the professional and technical competence of ITW, and its willingness to promote the use of FCR in Kenya. It is perhaps interesting to speculate on what might have happened if a firm such as ITW, able and willing to coordinate the activities of small tile producers in the informal sector, did not exist. Would FCR tiles have been specified for 1750 houses? If so, what problems might have been encountered in the process of delivery.

There are now a number of small entrepreneurs in Kenya who can produce good tiles (even on inferior equipment); most of them also have the skills to construct roofs and fix tiles. But they clearly do not have the managerial skills required to set up and run a contract on the scale of Koma Rock. Neither do they have access to the level of finance needed to get such a contract up and running.

The kind of problem faced by small entrepreneurs in undertaking building contracts of even moderate size in the formal sector is well illustrated. When the contract for the additional 38 'in-fill' houses was about to be let, a new contractor approached the architect and asked for the opportunity to tender. He was subsequently awarded a contract for the construction of the roofing on 7 of the 38 houses. This involved the production of 6,500 tiles of 10 mm thickness as well as a large number of battens. To mobilize resources and start production, there was a need of a working capital in the order of 90,000 Kenyan Shillings. This is a large sum of money for a small entrepreneur to raise. He ruled out the possibility of approaching the commercial banks because of the bureaucracy involved and the fact that they would undoubtedly require collateral. Instead he borrowed from three of his friends. With one of them he was able to exchange tiles for battens, but the others charged high rates of interest, reflecting the high level of risk involved. The houses were eventually completed to the full satisfaction of the architect - who in fact wrote a letter to say how pleased he was with the work. But interest rates of 25 per cent virtually wiped out any profit on the contract.

Small producers clearly need access to working capital, in order to finance tile production in advance of payment and build up some stocks. This is particularly important if they are to compete for supply and fix contracts in the formal building market where payment is always deferred, sometimes for many months. In addition, they probably need to join together and jointly market their skills, in order to be in a position to tender for larger contracts. FCR die producers in Kenya are in fact now attempting to do this through their newly formed association "Ficropak". On a cooperative basis they could perhaps undertake a contract for 20 houses at a time.

The implications for the architects and other professionals of implementing a project such as Koma Rock through small contractors are quite clear. If a firm such as ITW were not around to coordinate the activities of the informal sector, the professionals would have to reach out and do so themselves. They would first have to know of the existence of the small producers; they would then have to find out about their capabilities, and be prepared to slice the contract into packages that the small producers can handle. Clearly more work is involved in the administration of 85 contracts for 20 houses, than one large contract for 1700. Also, there is probably a grater risk that small contractors might default, and a greater need to provide them with some advanced 'mobilisation' payment. The additional work and additional risk involved would probably deter all but the most determined - unless some compensation were allowed for in the fee-scale.

Nevertheless, it is important for the future growth and development of FCR tile producers that they have a chance to tender in their own right for the supply and fixing of FCR tile roofing. The successful completion of such contracts would give them greater confidence in their own abilities, inspire confidence among building industry clients and the public at large, and above all provide them with the opportunity to accumulate much needed capital for the expansion of their businesses.

Costs and Benefits from FCR Tile Production

The decision to specify FCR tiles on Phase I of Koma Rock was justified on the grounds that 6 mm FCR tiles were cheapest acceptable form of roofing available. The only cheaper alternative, GCI sheets, was not seriously considered, as they are not acceptable for use in the scheduled areas of the city.

Since the start of Phase I, the combined effect of the de-regulation of cement prices and the devaluation of the shilling has led to a steep increase in the price of cement (plus 70 per cent since 1989), with a consequent increase in the price of FCR tiles. However, other roofing materials have also been affected by inflationary forces (with the possible exception of clay tiles) so that price differentials between alternative materials have not changed a great deal. The fable below shows the estimated cost of the various alternatives in February 1992. It can be seen that the cheapest form of roofing material is still 32 or 30 gauge GCI sheets (both of which are very thin). But the second cheapest is FCR tiles. Eight mm FCR tiles cost about the same as 28 gauge GCI sheets, but less than clay tiles and significantly less than conventional concrete tiles.

Preparing sand for the mortar - Courtesy Africa Housing Fund, Nairobi

Table 1. Cost comparisons for roofing - Nairobi, February 1992



Timber Structure



Total Cost


FCR Tiles





6 mm





8 mm





10 mm


Marena Concrete tiles






Manson Hart Concrete tiles






Clay Tiles



























Note: All prices in Kenyan Shillings per square metre

Source: Solomon Mwangi, Nairobi

FCR tiles can, of course, he made even more cheaper. If the colouring is omitted, one per tile can be saved, bringing the costs of plain 6 mm tiles below those of 30 gauge GCI sheets. FCR tiles also have other advantages over sheets. They should last longer than 30 gauge GCI (especially in humid climates), reducing the life cycle costs. They also have better thermal insulation properties and are much quieter in the rain - although these advantages are not necessarily always recognized by the consumer.

However, on a large formal sector project such as Koma Rock, the savings on construction costs by the use of FCR tiles ;ire perhaps not of great significance, the roofing being only a very small percentage of the total costs of the project. More important is the re-distribution of benefits that can be achieved by the use of a small-scale, labour-intensive technology.

Benefits are realized in the form of profits and wages. On Koma Rock, profits that would otherwise have gone to the large-scale roofing manufactures (many of them branches of multi-nationals) and possibly channelled out of the country, were diverted to small local firms, and reinvested in the local economy. The Humama women claim to have made 400.000 Kenyan Shillings profit on Phase 1: although if the full cost of equipment were charged against the project they would certainly have made a loss. Six other small tile producers probably made around 50.000 Kenyan Shillings each (which again does not allow for depreciation costs of equipment).

In terms of employment, some 80 women and probably around 40 men were employed making tiles on a full-time basis for over a year. These were high quality jobs that would not otherwise have been created. At an average wage of 40 shillings per day, these 120 people collectively received around 2 million Kenyan Shillings, during the 14 months of the contract. The use of any alternative type of roofing material, all of which are made by capital-intensive techniques, would have generated few jobs, whilst imposing a heavy demand upon foreign-exchange resources. Some 70 per cent of the cost of GCI sheets is in imported inputs. The import content of FCR tiles is estimated at less than 20 per cent, the most important element of which is the cost of the colouring.

On the other side of the balance sheet a certain amount of technical assistance has been provided in Kenya over the years for (he development of tile-making skills, which should strictly speaking be costed against the benefits derived. The Humama group in particular was heavily subsidized, with the provision of training, supervision and management as well as relatively expensive imported equipment. If the 1.3 million invested in equipment alone were to he deducted from the wages and profits paid, the net benefit from the project would certainly be negative. If Koma Rock (Phase I) were to turn out to be a 'one-off' event, the cost per (temporary) work-place created for Humama women would in fact be very high.

The costs and benefits of investment in technical assistance should, however, be evaluated over me long-term. The investment in training and the establishment of FCR tile production capacity was made on the assumption that Phase I of Koma Rock would be followed by Phase II, and by other housing projects in Nairobi, both large and small - creating an expanding market for FCR tiles. Not only Humama but other womens' groups have been established as tile producers in anticipation of this event. The prospects of this now happening will be investigated below.

Market Prospects/or FCR Tiles

There is little doubt that the market for FCR tiles did not 'take-off as anticipated as a result of the publicity afforded to the product during Phase I.

We have already seen that the Humama women ceased production at the end of the project. Although this is mainly because they do not have any permanent site of their own, the lack of a market outlet was clearly also a problem; and the women still had large numbers of rejected tiles in stock, which had to be sold before producing new ones. The same applies to the other private producers. Wacira Gathigo from Athi River was five months without an order, during which time he continued to pay two of his workers, so as not to lose them. After five months he obtained a contract in remote Loitoktok, on the slopes of Kilimanjaro on the Tanzanian border, and hence became an 'itinerant' tile maker. While some of the other producers at Koma Rock have had slightly better luck, the general picture during the past two years has been one of stagnant sales. Few are able to earn a living from tile production. Even ITW, the longest established producer has failed to increase the sale of tiles, and is now relying on water tanks for the major part of its turnover.

The initial response to the tiles was not overwhelmingly enthusiastic. The inconsistent colour and lack of a smooth finish gave concern to the client and architects. Whilst the owners and tenants of the houses were worried by the fragility of the tiles and the fact that daylight could be seen through them. There were also complaints of leakages, which does nothing to engender confidence in the tiles (even if the tiles were not at fault). These problems will hopefully be overcome in Phase II by the use of 8 mm or 10 mm tiles, the insertion of a hardboard sheet, and a more appropriate roof design. The use of interlocking, or "Roman' tiles, is believed to have also been considered, but rejected. Hence, on Phase II of Koma Rock the tiles will be given a second chance. They will probably also be used on a number of smaller KBS housing projects in some of the other towns in Kenya.

It seems unlikely, however, that FCR tiles will be specified on the large BAT housing estate soon to commence in another part of Nairobi. There is also no evidence of the use of FCR tiles on the many other private housing estates, both large and small, currently under construction. Although the Kayole Mungano Womens' Group (also supported by the AHF) maintain that they have sold tiles to developers in Kayole site and services scheme across the road, the roofs of the multi-storey houses constructed there appear to be mainly of conventional concrete tiles; while the single storey houses use GCI sheets, inward sloping into an interior courtyard.

FCR tiles are clearly not suited to all types of urban construction. Also, speculative housing developers may not be very interested in lowering costs through the specification of a slightly 'inferior' tile if such action were to lower the sale or rental value of the house - at least while there is still a serious shortage of high income housing. But nonetheless it would seem that there should still be a some kind of potential market for FCR tiles in private housing estates.

Analysis of the sales made by private producers in fact reveals that most of their tiles have to date been sold to individual, middle income families building their own houses, in the rural or peri-urban areas. Most Kenyans aspire to build a permanent house once in their lifetime; and although many seem not to mind living under a 'tin' roof, when it comes to home ownership, red tiles are preferred. Information on the total size of this market is not available, but in Nairobi at least it must be substantial, even in the current recession. Although some sales have been made, clearly only a very small percentage of the potential number of private customers are currently buying FCR tiles.

In other regions, FCR tiles cannot be sold easily because people are too poor to buy them, but in Nairobi that is clearly not the case. If a market for roofing tiles exists, but FCR is not getting a share of it, then it is perhaps be because the product is not appropriate to consumer needs. After all, if there is a market for a thinner and cheaper red tile, it would be reasonable to expect the existing large-scale producers to exploit it. On the other hand, it could simply be that not enough effort has been put into marketing the product. It may be that the former is the case; but the latter is equally probable.

The smaller producers are faced with the problems of lack of funds for advertisement. The placing of even a small advertisement in the national press is very expensive. Yet regular advertising would serve two functions - alerting potential customers to the existence and location of the tile producers, and persuading them of the credibility and value of the product. Producers of the roofing materials advertise regularly on television and radio, and in the daily press. If FCR tile producers are to gain a bigger share of the market they have to do the same. They have also to make direct approaches to architects and clients - something that is not easy for a small entrepreneur to do.

Before advertising, however, it is clearly necessary for producers to have a stock of tiles, so that potential customers can buy off the shelf. In view of the fact that FCR tiles take several weeks to cure before they can be used, significant amounts of working capital are required to build up stocks. Most of the small FCR tile producers in Kenya in fact cite a lack of access to capital as the major constraint to an expansion of sales and development of their business.

In an attempt to solve these problems, a number of small producers have recently come together to form an association, known as the Fibre-Concrete Producers Association of Kenya (Ficropak). High among its list of objectives are joint advertising and the mobilization of a revolving fund for the provision of working capital. The association is still very young, however, and faces a number of difficulties. It relies for funding upon subscriptions from members, only 16 of whom have paid up. Hence in current circumstances, subscriptions are insufficient to finance even a pan-time secretary, let alone provide working capital or pay for advertisements in the press. Nevertheless, the formation of Ficropak is a promising development and worthy of support.

It would seem that the time is now ripe for a serious marketing campaign for the promotion of FCR tiles in Kenya. The use of FCR tiles on the Koma Rock Estate has proved that Hie tiles have sufficient credibility to be sold to a large and public customer. A draft standard has been formulated and there are a number of serious entrepreneurs with the capacity and ability to make good quality tiles. What is urgently needed is some financial assistance, perhaps to be channelled through Ficropak, for launching such a campaign, directed at both estate developers and private householders.

It is of course possible that even a major marketing exercise will not succeed in significantly expanding the market for FCR tiles in Kenya. But in view of the time and money already invested in transferring the technology, and the substantial surplus tile-making capacity that now exists, it would seem short-sighted not to make the attempt.

Two story buildings covered with FCR - Courtesy ITW, Nairobi


The research findings may be summarized as follows:

Institutional and Contractual Constraints

There appear to have been no 'institutional' type barriers to the use of FCR tiles at Koma Rock. It would seem that the potential barrier presented by inappropriate bye-laws and regulations had been overcome by the time the project was launched. The existence of a draft Kenyan Standard for FCR tiles was clearly an important milestone in the legitimization of the technology.

In terms of contractual constraints, the considerable risks inherent in specifying a new and labour-intensive technology on a large project were, in this instance, not a problem for the architect. They were simply passed on to the nominated roofing subcontractor. The completion of the roofing contract (on time, within budget, and to the satisfaction of the architects) owed much to the managerial and technical competence of ITW, as well as their ability to raise the necessary finance.

In most situations the specification of FCR tiles on a major building project such as Koma Rock would of necessity involve the architects (or project managers) in considerably more work, and place them at considerable risk. For they would have to coordinate the output and activities of a large number of small-tile producers - probably involving the slicing of the project into many small packages. They would also have to assume the responsibility for quality control of something like 1.2 million essentially hand-made tiles. In addition, small producers may well require advance payment, or other means of access to working capital, in order to mobilize resources. Recognition of these factors and willingness to accommodate them in contractual arrangements is essential if FCR tiles are to be widely specified in formal building projects.

Benefits from the Specification of FCR Tiles

FCR tiles were specified on the Koma Rock Project because they are cheaper than all acceptable alternatives. However, the cost savings on a large project such as this are less significant than the re-distribution of benefits achieved by the use of a small-scale, labour-intensive technology. These benefits, in the form of profits and wages, were quite substantial. Profits that would otherwise have gone to large-scale roofing material manufacturers (many of them branches of multi-nationals) were diverted to local firms and re-invested in the local economy. Additional wealth was generated through wages paid to the 80 women and 40 men employed on a full-time basis making tiles during the 14 months of the contract. In this instance, the majority of those employed were from the lowest income group.

It may be concluded that the use of FCR tiles for roofing on a large number of projects located throughout the country would generate significant employment opportunities and profits for small-scale enterprises, help to alleviate poverty and reduce regional income inequalities, whilst also saving on foreign exchange expenditure.

The Effects of Koma Rock on the Market for FCR Tiles

If the benefits from the use of FCR tiles are to be widespread and sustainable, a continuous market for the tiles has to be created. Unfortunately, the sale of tiles in Kenya did not 'take-off as a result of low publicity afforded to the product by the Koma Rock project. Problems were seen in the fragility of the tiles, their inconsistent colour, and the fact that daylight could be seen between them. These problems may be partially overcome in phase II by the specification of ticker tiles and the insertion of a hardboard sheet between battens and rafters. It might also be desirable to develop a stronger colour or texture on the upper surface, in order to make the tiles a 'classier' product. All of these modifications of course involve additional cost. But perhaps this is necessary when specifying for institutional and/or discerning architects and clients. It does not preclude the specification of a more basic, and cheaper, product for clients with limited funds.

In addition to the clients' perception of the product, there appear to be other factors inhibiting the expansion of the market for FCR tiles in Kenya. To date, ITW has been the only producer attempting to sell tiles to housing estate developers. And nobody is advertising the tiles, or attempting to promote them in the private, self-build housing market. The reason is not hard to find. The many small FCR tile producers in Kenya (in common with small producers everywhere) are severely constrained by a lack of working capital, which is needed both to pay for advertisements and to build up stocks of tiles in advance of sale. Attempts to form a producers association in order to overcome their difficulties have so far been frustrated - by the very same lack of capital that caused them to unite in the first place.

If small FCR tile producers were to gain access to working capital and devote more attention to marketing and selling their products, it is possible that the market for FCR tiles may yet 'take-off in Kenya. In view of the time and effort devoted to the technology in Kenya, it would seem a pity not to put it to test.